Stock Taking the Election

elections

In every election political parties and leaders promise betterment of aam aadmi’s life. On the contradictory it worsens. This general election is not going to be different. Although there a pot full of poll promises it is going to be empty ones. We need new energy and vision for rejuvenating the nation.

Risabh Bhandari writes in the Times of India, 11 May 2009,

The general election for the 15th Lok Sabha unfolded with a customary hullabaloo expected of it. Sloganeering politicians, quixotic campaigns and maverick pronouncements have all contributed to a burlesque extravaganza intended to enthuse or even entertain the electorate. Meanwhile, psephologists and astrologers alike speculate feverishly over the results. Yet irrespective of the next administration’s shape, there’s no escaping the enormous challenges that await it. And prime among these will be tackling India’s worsening fiscal deficit.

Earlier this year, the financial services firm Goldman Sachs noted that India’s fiscal deficit, including the Centre and states, ranked among the highest in the world and was likely to exceed 10 per cent of GDP in the current fiscal year. The sums involved are staggering. In the interim budget presented in February, the government admitted that in 2008-09, the deficit at the Centre had swelled from an initial estimate of Rs 1,33,287 crore (2.5 per cent of GDP) to the boggling reality of Rs 3,26, 515 crore (6 per cent of GDP). As a consequence of this profligacy, the prudential obligations imposed by the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act had to be ‘relaxed’.

The real question posed by such stupendous borrowing is whether this political addiction to debt is sustainable in the long run. Who should be especially concerned? The middle class on whom the brunt of repayment will fall through taxes certainly ought to be. It’s time they began asking some hard questions of their elected representatives.

At a time when the global financial crisis has left governments elsewhere in the world bracing themselves for a post-fiscal stimulus era of austerity with public spending freezes and an overdue return to prudent book-keeping, what’s noticeable in this general election is that neither the BJP nor the Congress have articulated a coherent response on this front. Instead, both parties have preferred to side-step issues relating to detail in favour of regurgitating pious humbug.

Their respective manifestos are far from illuminating. With a fine sense of historical irony, the Congress manifesto declares that the party “promises what it can do and will do what it promises”. It extols flagship expenditure initiatives over the last five years including the NREGS and the Rs 65,000 crore farmers’ loan waiver scheme, inviting voters to believe in their efficiency as an article of faith and tempting them to forget the many reports of systemic leakages and operational failure. A list of well-intentioned expenditure schemes for the next five years is outlined. But in typical fashion, no details on funding are offered. The inconvenient truth that these will have to be paid for somehow is overlooked entirely.

Yet if the Congress manifesto can be faulted for its uncosted assumptions, can the BJP manifesto be far behind? After a frightfully tedious lament for India’s past, the BJP manifesto turns to the present day by promising “massive investments” and listing some proposals without bothering to address costs. On the one hand, it fulminates against the Congress party’s reckless spending. But on the other hand, it also advances plans of its own which resemble much the same. For instance, the party affirms its intention to waive agricultural loans but doesn’t spell out where the moneyfor this will come from. Neither does it indicate whether it will be prepared to rethink or even revoke existing Congress spending plans where it disagrees with them. For all its criticisms of the NREGS, the BJP balks at taking a specific policy stance in relation to it. That indecision or timidity comes through quite clearly.

The unacknowledged truth is that the next government will not have the luxury of choice that its predecessor had. An era of high economic growth and revenue buoyancy allowed the Congress party to spend unheeded as it fancied. But that time has passed. Contracting growth and diminishing revenues mean that public expenditure will come under strain. Neither the Congress nor the BJP have alluded to this inevitability. If the intention is to carry on borrowing, it has not been disclosed. This reluctance is driven by the populist exigencies of an election campaign. But it places too low a premium on a voter’s intelligence and this opacity diminishes public life.

At a deeper philosophical level, the issue is that both parties remain wedded to the idea of state control. It is now generally assumed that the onset of liberalisation in the early 1990s marked a fundamental reorientation in Indian politics. Liberalisation came to India not as the apogee of an intellectual movement but merely through the nadir of necessity. It has not supplanted the Congress party’s essential instinct for centralism and intervention. Nor has it led the BJP to an alternative vision of localism, individual autonomy and smaller government.

Nevertheless, despite such ideological misgivings, the reality is that the next government will have to curb expenditure to effect a much-needed fiscal course correction. Hopefully, it may have little option but to shrink the state by cutting waste, exercising restraint and encouraging private enterprise. From the ashes of this financial tumult, if a fiscally conservative phoenix arose eventually, it would not be such a terrible outcome after all.

More than politics the people good quality life. If the politics is not going to provide that, politics is going to suffer irreparable damage in the future.

Unending political crisis in Nepal

nepalNepal faces frequent political instability. The revolutionary communists who won the hated democratic exercise are fighting among themselves. They are not comfortable with the pillars of governance. Naturally there is a huge crisis of governance.

The Hindu editorial writes, 5 May 2009

 

The political crisis in Nepal has taken a dangerous turn with the resignation of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda.’ The immediate trigger was President Ram Baran Yadav’s decision to reject a resolution of the Maoist-led cabinet dismissing the Nepal Army chief, Rookmangud Katawal, for insubordination. Although the Maoists can be faulted for acting hastily and unilaterally, the anti-democratic attitude of General Katawal towards civilian control in general and the peace process specifically lies at the root of the crisis. Nepal established its democracy through a political process that ended a decade-long civil war and abolished the country’s hated monarchy. Integration of Maoist combatants drawn from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into a reformed and democratised national army was a key principle to which all parties agreed when the struggle against King Gyanendra was at its peak. But now that the republic has been established and the task of framing Nepal’s constitution is under way, the Nepali Congress and even the Unified Marxists-Leninists have been dragging their feet on this question. But most damaging of all has been the stand taken by General Katawal.

In defiance of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the army chief pushed ahead with inducting thousands of new recruits, unilaterally extended the tenure of eight senior generals, and withdrew the army from the National Games on account of the PLA’s participation. No democracy can tolerate such insubordination from its army chief. Worse, General Katawal lobbied for support with foreign countries and there was even talk of a coup d’etat. Although he exploited the constitutional provision designating the President as the ‘commander-in-chief’ as a fig leaf for his machinations, it is a settled principle of parliamentary democracy that a non-executive head of state cannot exercise any powers in this regard independent of Cabinet advice. So blinded are the UML and the Nepali Congress by their opposition to the Maoists that they have applauded Mr. Yadav for his action, which has introduced a dangerous dynamic into civil-military relations in Nepal’s fledgling democracy. Unless the standoff is ended, the peace process could collapse. What all parties, including the Maoists, must do is to act soberly and responsibly to re-establish a working arrangement that allows Prachanda to remain Prime Minister, General Katawal to serve out his remaining four months as army chief, and the core principle of integration to remain intact.

There is no possibility for the continued stability of the government in Nepal. Atleast the development work must not be hindered. Bureaucracy and civil society organizations should continue despite the political instability.

Cash flow election in Tamil Nadu

electionTamil Nadu is well-known for all sorts of politics. Money, muscle and brain mingle freely in the elections and in administration. Unprecedently this Lok Sabha polls witnesses a huge flow of money in the election battle. The Hindu editorial voices its concerns, 5 May 2009, No political party can claim to have adhered to the Model Code of Conduct in letter and spirit all the time. Several parties, big and small, ruling or in the opposition, across India have honoured the guidelines in the breach. Tamil Nadu’s ruling party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, has crossed previous limits by its transgressions of the Code — in utter disregard of the Election Commission of India, which is vested by the Constitution with the “superint endence, direction and control of elections.” The Code is meant to provide a level playing field to all parties, with its crucial Part VII designed to ensure that the ruling party at the Centre and in the States does not misuse its official position for campaigning. By effecting a Statewide reduction in bus fares just days before the Lok Sabha election without even a formal government order, the DMK government has fallen foul of the rules of the game. If the overnight reduction without any prior announcement was bad enough, worse was the explanation offered to the Election Commission by the Chief Secretary: that the managing directors of the State transport undertakings took the decision on their own. That all the transport corporations ordered a downward revision on the same day without consulting the Minister was such a tall tale that the Election Commission was able swiftly to dismiss the explanation and ask the State government to withdraw the fare cut. However, the bus fare cut is only one of several violations of the Code. Madurai, where M.K. Azhagiri, son of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, is contesting on the DMK ticket, is witness to money power and muscle power undermining the democratic process. Ruling partymen have been distributing money to voters and attacking political opponents who objected to their ways. Several cases have been filed and the Chief Electoral Officer has sent a report to the Election Commission. Evidently, an attempt is being made to replicate the formula worked out in the by-election for the Thirumangalam Assembly constituency in Madurai district in January. Then as now, huge resources were placed in the hands of the ruling party’s campaign managers; and the Election Commission had to step in and transfer officials seen to be favouring the ruling party. The DMK won the constituency by a huge margin, and Mr. Azhagiri was seen, within the DMK and outside, as the protagonist of a New Way of winning elections. It is now up to the Election Commission of India to act decisively to ensure that dadagiri, whether by ruling partymen or others, has no place in the elections scheduled for May 13 in Tamil Nadu. Only the tough election commission decision can save the Lok Sabha polls from the usual abuses

Long live poverty

Poverty is a pet theme for politicians acpoverty_wideweb__430x387ross the world. Intellectuals use it for their survival.

Bachi Karkaria writes in The Times of India, 24 April 2009,

Imelda Marcos once pronounced that she had to live so extravagantly ‘because the poor need to look up from their slums and see a star’. She may
have ended up as a black hole with fancy shoes, but what she expressed so crassly had always been a fact. In ancient Rome, that diversion was the circus Games for the impoverished plebs. In the present, it is Page Three for the middle-class masses.

But all this has turned downside up. Everyone is lapping up sordid slumdog sagas with the rapt attention formerly reserved for the glam-sham of business princes, Bolllywoodcesses and botoxed Queenies. On the Gawk Quotient, the bustierati is being jostled out by the busteerati. It’s the new version of ‘upliftment of the poor’.

Take the reported sale of Rubina-Latika. Prime time, Page 1, cyber chatter and penthouse indignation all focused on it. True, there was so much buzz because the story sprang from a sting operation by a gora tabloid; it’s unlikely that there would have been the same fuss had it merely oozed out of a self-righteous expose in the Indian Express.

Truer still, the Rubina sale released as much adrenalin as a top-brands Sale not because it involved just any slum kid whose ilk is routinely bought and sold without the daiquiri divas getting their thongs in a twist. It was about the child who had walked the Oscars red carpet o a greater dazzle of flash bulbs than Abhi-Ash at Cannes.

On day one, more reporters and TV crew were deployed at Rubina’s Garib Nagar bustee than at a Gandhi/Advani rally. Mercifully, the IPL managed to salvage some of the glitzzat of conventional celebrity. A respectable number of TRPs did accrue to Preity, Shah Rukh and Neeta Ambani.

Are we hurtling into a role reversal of gawker and gawked-at? Is this the dawning of the Age of Reverse Celebrity? Or is it the narrowing of the gap between the haves and the have-nots in a perverse mutation of Garibi Hatao. Consider these four factors.

One, the tale of Rafiq Qureshi trying to hawk his Cinderella to the highest bidder should sound familiar enough to the merchants of the plush matrimonial market. Also to the greedy parents who relentlessly turn their little kids into circus bears on t.v shows. Indeed, the rich should have no trouble recognising Greed as Life’s Principal Driver, even if they don’t deign to identify with this story’s ‘Fake Sheikh’, Authentic Arab, or Cad Dad.

Two, the shrewd Mr Qureshi has taught business barons a sharp lesson in market capitalisation, cashing in on the brand equity of his overnight asset. Little Rubina too seems to have quickly acquired the insouciant savvy which hallmarks rich brats, thus doubling her innate street-smartness. She has tasted blood big-time, so why shouldn’t she sashay into the luxurious future her beloved abba-jaan had planned for her? Inshallah, it may not have a sinister aftermath.

Three, if the rich have always arrogated special concessions to themselves, the parentally challenged Mr Qureshi doesn’t see why he should be flayed for flouting the rule book. “I’m poor,” he said, without even bothering to whine. And the minister ostensibly in charge of protecting the country’s children seemed to agree when she pronounced on national TV that we should not presume to condemn the ethics of the poor from the comfort of our air-conditioned spaces.

And finally, take the catfight between Rubina’s step and biological mothers. It sounded salaciously similar to the concurrent one between Adnan Sami’s estranged wife, Sabah Galadari, and Pooja Bedi. Right down to the fact that the slum photograph showed a Muni disrobed by a screeching Khurshid, while, according to Pooja’s police complaint, Sabah had bared her breasts as she hysterically accused the actress of having an affair with her husband.

Mubarak ho, the rich-poor gap has been bridged.

It is time to stop weeping over rich poor gap and maximise the benefits for all. Eradicating poverty is a day dream. As long as the competitive world survives poverty will thrive.

Climate change as fashion word

Climate change is in the top of theclimate-change-2

talking points of world leaders. More speech are heard than any substantial action on the ground.

Paul Krugman writes in The New York Times, 1 May 2009,

The 2008 election ended the reign of junk science in our nation’s capital, and the chances of meaningful action on climate change, probably through a cap-and-trade system on emissions, have risen sharply.
But the opponents of action claim that limiting emissions would have devastating effects on the U.S. economy. So it’s important to understand that just as denials that climate change is happening are junk science, predictions of economic disaster if we try to do anything about climate change are junk economics.
Yes, limiting emissions would have its costs. As a card-carrying economist, I cringe when “green economy” enthusiasts insist that protecting the environment would be all gain, no pain.
But the best available estimates suggest that the costs of an emissions-limitation program would be modest, as long as it’s implemented gradually. And committing ourselves now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump.
Let’s talk first about those costs.
A cap-and-trade system would raise the price of anything that, directly or indirectly, leads to the burning of fossil fuels. Electricity, in particular, would become more expensive, since so much generation takes place in coal-fired plants.
Electric utilities could reduce their need to purchase permits by limiting their emissions of carbon dioxide — and the whole point of cap-and-trade is, of course, to give them an incentive to do just that. But the steps they would take to limit emissions, such as shifting to other energy sources or capturing and sequestering much of the carbon dioxide they emit, would without question raise their costs.
If emission permits were auctioned off — as they should be — the revenue thus raised could be used to give consumers rebates or reduce other taxes, partially offsetting the higher prices. But the offset wouldn’t be complete. Consumers would end up poorer than they would have been without a climate-change policy.
But how much poorer? Not much, say careful researchers, like those at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Emissions Prediction and Policy Analysis Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even with stringent limits, says the M.I.T. group, Americans would consume only 2 percent less in 2050 than they would have in the absence of emission limits. That would still leave room for a large rise in the standard of living, shaving only one-twentieth of a percentage point off the average annual growth rate.
To be sure, there are many who insist that the costs would be much higher. Strange to say, however, such assertions nearly always come from people who claim to believe that free-market economies are wonderfully flexible and innovative, that they can easily transcend any constraints imposed by the world’s limited resources of crude oil, arable land or fresh water.
So why don’t they think the economy can cope with limits on greenhouse gas emissions? Under cap-and-trade, emission rights would just be another scarce resource, no different in economic terms from the supply of arable land.
Needless to say, people like Newt Gingrich, who says that cap-and-trade would “punish the American people,” aren’t thinking that way. They’re just thinking “capitalism good, government bad.” But if you really believe in the magic of the marketplace, you should also believe that the economy can handle emission limits just fine.
So we can afford a strong climate change policy. And committing ourselves to such a policy might actually help us in our current economic predicament.
Right now, the biggest problem facing our economy is plunging business investment. Businesses see no reason to invest, since they’re awash in excess capacity, thanks to the housing bust and weak consumer demand.
But suppose that Congress were to mandate gradually tightening emission limits, starting two or three years from now. This would have no immediate effect on prices. It would, however, create major incentives for new investment — investment in low-emission power plants, in energy-efficient factories and more.
To put it another way, a commitment to greenhouse gas reduction would, in the short-to-medium run, have the same economic effects as a major technological innovation: It would give businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities even in the face of excess capacity. And given the current state of the economy, that’s just what the doctor ordered.
This short-run economic boost isn’t the main reason to move on climate-change policy. The important thing is that the planet is in danger, and the longer we wait the worse it gets. But it is an extra reason to move quickly.
So can we afford to save the planet? Yes, we can. And now would be a very good time to get started.

The world must collect all energies and talents to save the planet earth from further ecological devastation